Wednesday, June 11, 2014

In memoriam Niall Lucy

Poem by John, posted by Tracy

You can also read John's commemorative prose piece about Niall in The West Australian.

Pomo Elegy for Niall Lucy

Textures of low-fi
magnify space;
closure an error
of programming.

You get these jokes,
irreverent as Venice,
drinking over tables,
crooning dirges, hair

shining like shook foil
without God-fearing overtones.
But spirit — spirit in buckets,
winklepicker semantics.

I sit in a poorly-lit room
and see glitz on windows,
the scales of justice
reverberating Nick Cave.

All those overlays...
in there, indelible.
And death is more than:
an embedding no military

will ever get hold of,
no rightwing shockjock
bed down; I’m with you
all the way. Out of it.

You trashed the door
of the mining boom
and went straight
to the basement:

reclaimed The Cliffe
for music, those early tapes
resonating louder than pinballs.
The jarrah house that stands

as urban-rural element
in the folklore of rock,
your occasional drives
into the bush, giving

the nod to bushrangers.
And when all hell broke
loose, you compiled
the mix-tape par excellence.

Bartleby is the script,
and the obsessive Ahab
a trick of light off Fremantle.
Elvis was glorious in rhinestones,

but a Freo sunset... those pines.
But you’ve played the album,
written the liner notes: I’ll call
you out, litcrit’s ultimate

frontman! In this fiction
a poem is neon smoke,
and the rhythm section
never claims a Beat.

But it’s as true as Bon
belting it out by the sea,
the navigation lights off Fremantle,
the drinkers’ raucous chorus.

And I never had the chance
to tell you that I know who Pynchon is,
and where he hangs out...
those corner shops of Westralia.

John Kinsella

Monday, June 2, 2014

Anti-‘Craft’ in the Context of Western Capitalist Cultures

by John Kinsella

There's a major issue around notions and terms such as 'craft'. I am concerned with the way 'craft' in present discourse is a mode and articulation of reactionary constraint, and fear of innovation, and embodies a pro-aesthetics control (I am anti-aesthetics) over how we see and experience. It mediates experience, gives it a setting, and validates it through rule-compliance to fit a world order that has long suppressed liberty and fairness.

'Craft' is used by the retro-'lyrical' and 'clarity of meaning' poets as a sign for permanence and validation of text as '(the) object'. Now, that statement wouldn't be 'feeling' enough, but in the end, it's what happens when so-called 'craft' (often limited and narrow in its actuality) is used as a tool of measurement (and competition!). It is curatorial and reductive process/procedure, and it's about fetishised production values. It purports to be about the unique handmade object, but is actually about marketing and controlling the market in such objects. It's more production line than they'd like to think. Their problem: how to get around the mass production of books (even if they are small print-runs for poetry), and to have the privileged legitimised object created for the 'art' of it. This is compounded by that neo-romantic sense of being discovered, of not putting it out there but still letting everyone know of one's 'genius'... these are the dissemblings of the craft/ers. They want the attention but deny they look for attention. Politics stumps them because the point of a politics is to articulate a position re something. The 'craft'/ing affirms the power of the guild, and operates as a sinecure: the makers of 'craft' as criteria for judging the worth of a poem approve of craft in others and give it the official stamp of approval, or deny that stamp, but always the ones who cite craft position themselves as authorities and interpreters of the past. They use the past to validate and valorise the present, and to concentrate power in (their own) hands.

The idea that language, which constantly changes, should be constrained by a set of rules of good behaviour and a straitjacket of form and function, I entirely reject — that's why I wrote the book Shades of the Sublime, as a refutation of aesthetics, 'craft', and the encultured rules of prosody. What bothers me is that a wide group of Australian poets still hold a cringe re 'craft' — that they can only prove their mettle and prowess through subscribing to the rules of english-language cultural precedent. If they choose to do that, fine, but notice how they wish to impose their 'model' on all else. They wish to teach it, judge it, and ensure its permanence to the exclusion of whatever threatens (they allow a little innovation around the edges, but only, in the end, if the primacy of their activities is publicly and even privately acknowledged... it's a paranoid reaction while in denial of paranoid readings that reveal the theft, bankruptcy, and disrespect in so much non-indigenous culturising in Australia they are sourcing). Sure, they inflect their 'craft' with the 'local' (at best, it's a kind of new wave Jindyworobakism that's in denial), but in the end they are about chronologies of belonging, a community of heritage and projected (future) values. Values... a disturbing and deeply conservative notion.

I think all poetry is an extension of memory, and recalling memory is 'craft'. However, the application of that recall is where i'd depart from those I feel are too conservative — to deploy an extra article is not 'sloppiness', but a choice about speech and its implications. repetition isn't an accident, but a form of refrain (not a replacement, but a diversion, a tangent in the sense I mean it — too many 'students' over-edit their work and basically destroy anything challenging it had to say formally and/or thematically... the university creative writing 'craft workshop' has brought sameness, a lack of political purpose (it has to comply with the university/institution in the end), and merely highlights their teachers as exemplary models... disturbing).

Obviously, one is always calling on precedent and the (pre)existing rules of prosody and certainly literary texts when creating a poem — that's the 'template' (I use early writing not to extend but to undo... some seem to think this is disrespectful, but most of the texts I use had already done this to other texts in their time, directly or indirectly!) — but the template alters as it is tested by language and the socio-political conditions under which it's existing. There's a worrying cultural purity at work in this 'craft'-emphasis that also bothers me — rather, all 'crafts' from all cultural spaces should be acknowledged (I am not saying appropriated, but I am saying that an awareness of them should feed into the 'language' of locality and experience one is part of by choice or default)... comparative literature came about not through a desire for more entertainment, but as a way of finding how common ground does or doesn't work, and how we might translate the universal experience into the localities of 'history', place and language without disrespect (or, at least, attempting to minimise disrespect).

I would use Lorenz's summation of chaos in a different way from the 'craftsmen' and 'craftswomen', I'd imagine. Firstly, I'd take on the gendering and its implications. Then I'd break the constraint of rhythm which I don't recognise as a given, a universal. I think the bending, substitution and slippage (and downright wrecking) of rhythm is a vital 'tool' (ha! craft?) in dismantling the status quo of aesthetics and enslavement to a hierarchising of existence (as soon as I see 'good' and 'bad' I am distressed). Chaos rather becomes a way of ensuring a future can't be approximated through 'craft' because, so far, 'craft' has underpinned the destruction of the biosphere. Further, 'craft' has underpinned war, imperialism, and police states. 'Craft' gives the artisan an excuse to ply his/er trade in destructive causes. Craft creates degrees of separation. And then there's the quantum leap from 'craft' to 'lyric'.

I am sometimes portrayed as the 'enemy' of the lyric. I am not, but I am a resister of the poetics of the unified self and of the so-called lyrical-I. No secret there — I’ve been saying it for decades. But it's not just for the hell of it. It's because I see that poetics as the vehicle through which the poet becomes the mouthpiece for the status quo, for the concentration of power and its dire consequences for liberty and the actual 'self' (individual and communal). It's one of the reasons I find artistic collaboration so generative — it affirms and denies subjectivity at once, and though it can generate its own compliances and even impositions re power, it at least suggests that the unified self is questionable, if only by the act alone. But even that's challengeable, as the voice of the work as construct so easily becomes a tool of the language and ecology of place it works in. I like singing, I like hearing song, I even like writing poems as songs. But I will not sing-along with the faux-lyricists who see it as a mode of linking 'real' feelings with undifficult ‘musicality’ (while denying 'ideas' — the craft movement in australian poetry is anti-intellectual in so many ways), with the damned beautiful rhythms of life (producing what I hear as a kind of muzak!). That's not about what’s inside people, it's about advertising what one is given permission to show as being inside oneself. The lyric so easily falls into step with the status quo when it doesn't have to. That's what conventional rhythmics does. It subscribes.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Graphology Elegiacs 1

‘Ecopoetry’ has become an industry sustainable only in terms of its own definitions of ‘sustainable’, in its eagerness to reflect and speak out on failings aside from its own pathetic fallacies of distance. For this, a new and more virulent ‘irony’ needs introducing into the sanctuary: a balancing act that yields higher degrees of sensibility and hard-edged caring. Nature has become its plaything and reputations are recycled through its portals. Computers are the growth medium, air travel its prana.

John Kinsella

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Conversation with John Kinsella -- questions by Roberto Mussapi

This interview recently appeared in an Italian newspaper, in the Italian language.

Why is poetry necessary?

I believe all poetry is political at one level or another, and as such, poetry for me is a form of activism. As an environmentalist, when I write of the natural world I hope that my insights and ‘ways of seeing’ will contribute to the respect for and protection of ecologies. I am not interested in creating poems that hang as artefacts in museums, but in a living, breathing poetry that engages with the environmental crisis that the world faces. As a poet of landscape who is interested in exploring ‘up close’ the particular characteristics and qualities of a place, I hope to act as witness, to prevent damage being done, to preserve. So poetry is entirely necessary as a means of resisting, for example, the horrors of capitalist exploitation of land, of the pollution and exploitation of industrialisation, and other such examples of greed. My poems see the damage being done, and bring it to the attention of readers. Yet it’s not a case of propaganda, but of letting the images and language of the poems stimulate awareness, curiosity, and investigation. As a vegan-anarchist-pacifist, I have very strong feelings and ideas about how we might respect, conserve and experience the world we live in, especially the natural world, and I find poetry a more effective means of articulating these positions than the process of constantly being arrested and locked up, as I was when I was a young activist. Peaceful resistance still has an important place in my life, but I find poetry has been a truly effective means of communication.

Is there a relation between poetry and hope?

For me, poetry is entirely about hope. I actually once contributed poems to an anthology published by an Icelandic poet, which I think was called something like The Book of Hope. When I draw attention to what I have called ‘the damage done’ — to the exploitations, cruelties, and greed of humanity — it is because I believe that there’s another way, that people don’t have to be those things, and are very often not. Poetry becomes a superb ‘lens’, a way of focussing concern for positive change. I am strongly supportive of indigenous land rights around the world, and I come from a place where the indigenous people have had their land stolen with little if any compensation. Indigenous and non-indigenous poets who draw attention to this wrong (doing so in a variety of ways), have formed an essential part of broader community discourses that raise awareness about these wrongs. All nations want a literary ‘tradition’, and want literature they can show the world: if that literature (and for me, especially poetry), constantly speaks of the wrongs of theft of land, dispossession, inequality and exploitation, as well as speaking of the strength and cultural richness of dispossessed and disempowered communities, then external pressure can bring positive change. No country likes to feel embarrassed by what its writers are saying to the rest of the world. Poetry is all about hope to me. I have seen it stop bulldozers (I wrote an article about this once), and I have used it to help stop developments that would have put rare species of plants at risk. Poetry, for me, is an extension of how we live, and projects into how we might live better.

Can poetry contribute to a renaissance of humankind?

Of course — it always has. In doing my ‘distractions’ of Dante’s Divine Comedy, I tried to connect with one kind of eruption of insight into the torments and delights of the human soul with a need for another such eruption of awareness about the impacts humans have had on the planet. There are criticisms in there, of course, but also celebrations. For me, a new renaissance is an environmental one: if we do not act now to lessen the damage being done, there will be no planet, and no people to renew. Really, we are on the verge of needing a New Classicism which is about a more harmonic relationship with the natural world, and taking as models for art and existence, those from ‘nature’ that have persisted so effectively for so long. Which is not to deny there should be change or ‘development’, but rather, that this change might be more organic and less damaging, more in keeping with the ‘natural’ progress and changes of the biosphere, rather than those being forced at a rapid pace by humans. In this New Classicism is an acceptance that the rapid climate change we are now experiencing is in large part because of human industry and behaviour, and that less industrialisation, less reliance on energy for fuelling devices and other commercial fetishes, will mean a better life for all living things.

Do you think there is a relation between the poetic and the sacred spheres?

For me, poetry always contains a spiritual aspect. I write about spirituality, but I do not belong to any religion. I believe in all religions, and in no religions. I do not think a religious administration can conduct the workings of the human soul — if anything, I think it can take away and diminish the spirit. I have known many good people in various positions of religious authority — people whom I respect — but I cannot respect any edifices of power. As a non-violent anarchist, I am against centralisation and concentrations of power, and too often religion becomes these. Interestingly, many of my favourite poets, from Dante to Milton, have had ‘religion’ as a core concern, so it’s something about which I think and write, but I am always arguing that the human (or animal) spirit needs to find its own direction and its own freedom. Enlightenment can come about in many ways, and most often outside doctrine. Observing the natural world, listening to an old local farmer tell his life, watching the sun rise or set, are for me far more informative than rituals which have become hollow through being enforced and being offered as the ‘right’ way. Sometimes the ‘wrong’ way is more enriching! Poems are rarely perfect, and their ‘wrongs’ are sometimes as informative and spiritual as their ‘rights’. An imperfection in rhythm or prosody in general, something ‘misdescribed’, something misheard or misunderstood, can come across in a poem as a revelation, a new insight. The errors are as important as the ‘correct’ ways of doing things. No structure is perfect; all are worth pulling to bits and rebuilding as long as no living thing is hurt in the process. Vive la diffĂ©rence!

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Remembering the great Russian-language poet Regina Derieva, 1949-2013

Epistle to Regina Derieva

In Memoriam

I’m looking at your favourite icon, Regina,
an icon painted by your husband, Alexander,
an image of ‘The Virgin Eleousa’, made for
Discalced Carmelites, that closed and solitary
order, that retreat to awareness and love
where the self dissolves into complexities
of community, devotion and scripture.
Child born with an old head on young
shoulders, travelling the hard miles
from Kazakhstan to Jerusalem, mapping
houses and families, mapping the godless
and the god-filled, baggage heavy with conversion
but carried over borders, declared at every
crossing: a slippage, a parsing, God loud
in-absentia, those ‘distance measures’,
that tinnitus you don’t want to get rid of.
The stars can be so glib in their night skies,
and yet they keep company, work the light.
In translation your words read our words,
words I am as familiar with as my ‘outdoors’,
the birds and animals and plants I see
and note down — remade to grow a familiarity,
to fly in the lines of an icon, a wry liturgy
of making the days count. You still complete
the space we listen for, that telegraphic
whispering across vastness, so much part
of exile, that much-leavened ‘annihilation
of distance’. I can only say ‘God’ in colours:
the vivid reds, illuminating yellows, defining
blues taking comfort in wrapping the world
as we might know it. But it’s the hands that wrap
around a grave, the hollow we fill with lives;
all our flesh, all our people. My wife was once
a Carmelite postulant across the hottest months,
when fire spread within the walls, rare
bush conserved, or a garden spade was thrust
through a boot, a doctor called from the outside,
laughter at the painful absurdity. You’d
get the irony, the grimness, the art —
beyond a photograph, deep in the icon
where your words came from.

John Kinsella

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

New book of Activist Poems by John Kinsella

In an increasingly ecologically reactionary Australia (and the rest of the world), one hopes that poetry of protest might contribute to a rethinking of materialistic, selfish and anti-environmental policies and ways of living.

Anyway, on a personal level, the poems in this collection The Vision of Error: A Sextet of Activist Poems, written since 2005, are an attempt to articulate an opposition to consumerism and humanocentric views of "nature". There is also a poem that examines and deplores the death sentence. ("Set" in America, but applying to the issue in a broader sense.)

Keep activist, and don't let the bastards grind you down.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Fleeting: a poem by John Kinsella

It’s a three-boat fleet moored at the pier.
Won’t be there long, then off, out to sea, plundering.
The hawsers around capstans with easy knots
are expected to hold, though a wind is rising;
sailors, arms crossed and huddled together, mutter
into each other’s faces. Birds are nowhere,
unlike when smaller boats sail slowly in.

My walk takes me down Ardmanagh Road,
left onto Main Street, then right onto Pier Road
down past Pier Cottages and onto the pier itself.
There’s smashed ice on the ground in front of The Works,
and a pair of freezer trucks wait blankly. Drivers
sit in cars, eating and staring into the harbour,
translating scenery through anxieties.

Or, for the first time today, they are thinking
of nothing. Overlaying thoughts, fusing to zero.
I walk up hacked-out streets to Colla Road
and turn right. Holiday houses. Cottages
with names of birds: swallow, wren, kingfisher...
could be back ‘home’, where in supreme heat
birds with those names gasp along drying rivers.

Winter is coming on and the air is dead fish
and coal smoke. Houses: freshly painted. A tractor
driven by an old man sheds mud and cowshit
as if it’s a reclaiming of something he might
have possessed if his fields had been given room
to spread. Shy locals enfolded in wraps follow
small, brisk dogs. I walk off what I am not;

with no rights of soil, lost rights of parentage,
no rights of nature. I won’t go out on boats that kill fish,
out beyond territorial waters of all countries. Bashed
as a child for being ‘a poof’, bashed as an adult
for being ‘queer’, I am remade in somebody’s image,
remade in my configurings of ‘here’. The ships
sail off the edge of the world, coal smoke

blocks our way to the light. A few twists and turns
and I arrive back home, transcoded. The ‘who’ and ‘what’
are imprinted all over. I wear a thin shirt in coldest
weather — my body has closed off from extremes.
I don’t feel. It will be so cold or so hot I will die before
realising. Rooks are sitting atop chimneys and I know
before I open a door that Tracy will have heard their talk.

John Kinsella